As president of America's largest union of public service workers, I often hear from some politicians and pundits that government workers are overpaid. These folks might be surprised to learn that I agree with them when we're talking about individuals like Ron Packard. As America's highest paid teacher, Packard made more than $19 million between 2009 and 2013, almost all of it paid for by us -- the taxpayers.
Perhaps I should put quotation marks around the word "teacher." You see, Packard was, until very recently, the CEO of K12 Inc., an online education corporation that raked in more than $730 million last year from public school systems and replaced real life classrooms and teachers with virtual ones. Packard is also a former Goldman Sachs executive who started K12 with $40 million from Wall Street investors, including convicted junk bond king Michael Milken. Yet even as taxpayers spend millions on Packard and his company, only 27.7 percent of K12 online schools met state standards in 2010-2011.
All of that information and more is revealed in "Exposed: America's Highest Paid Government Workers," a new report from the Center for Media and Democracy. The report documents how taxpayers subsidize huge salaries and benefits for very wealthy CEOs who take over public services. Contrary to their promises to run public services "better, faster and cheaper" than the government, "Exposed: America's Highest Paid Government Workers" documents how these CEOs use public dollars to cut corners when it comes to public health and safety while the corporations compensate them in outrageous ways.
For example, George Zoley is America's highest paid "corrections officer." As the head of GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S., Zoley made $22 million between 2008 and 2012. GEO took in $1.4 billion in 2012 alone - 86 percent of which came from taxpayers. But as Zoley makes out like a bandit, GEO has used accounting gimmicks to cut the taxes it pays to support our communities. Its cost-cutting has led to high turnover and understaffing, which critics contend risks the safety of the prison and thus the entire of the community.
There is Jeffry Sterba, America's highest paid "water treatment worker" as CEO of American Water Works Company. He made more than $8 million in his first few years leading the company. American Water is the for-profit provider for approximately 14 percent of the U.S. population, with approximately 89 percent of its $2.9 billion operating revenue coming from taxpayers.
Richard Montoni is America's highest paid "case worker" as the head of Maximus, a for-profit corporation that handles government services for the poor and vulnerable. Montoni made more than $16 million between 2008 and 2012, although in 2007 his company paid $30 million to settle a criminal investigation after the federal government alleged Maximus helped one city falsify Medicaid claims. And then there is Nicholas Moore, America's highest paid "road worker," whose Australia-based corporation Macquarie runs major toll roads in Illinois, Indiana, and Virginia. He earned nearly $9 million in 2013.
But the politicians and pundits I mentioned earlier don't complain about CEOs like Nicholas Moore. They prefer to talk about public service workers like nurses, librarians, and emergency service workers. These folks aren't highly paid. The average AFSCME unionized public service worker makes $45,000 each year. They also earn an average pension of $19,000 a year, and for roughly one third of public service workers this is the only retirement security they have because they are not allowed to participate fully in Social Security benefits as public service workers.
That kind of wage and retirement package is a ladder to the middle class for millions of American families. (And by the way, isn't that the whole point of unionization? To grow the middle class?) But $45,000 a year is hardly lavish. Nor is a $19,000 pension breaking the bank.
As the nation seeks to understand the causes and solutions of income inequality, the recent trend of outsourcing public services to for-profit corporations should be a focus of study. We've allowed huge corporations to assume control of our schools, roads, prisons and libraries. In return, a few CEOs pocketed millions from taxpayers, as many workers at the bottom saw their wages and benefits gutted. Even America's highest paid "teacher" ought to admit that's a disastrous equation.